Seasons rarely pan out as you expect and team strengths wax and wane over the duration, so it's not entirely surprising that an assessment of the difficulty of a team's draw will differ in retrospect compared to an assessment made in prospect.
Prior to the commencement of Season 2014 I assessed the difficulty of each team's draw using a relatively complicated approach that drew on VSRS Ratings and took into account variability in Home Ground Advantage by team and by venue. For today's blog I'm going to adopt a simpler approach and:
- Use MARS Ratings
- Assume a fixed 6-point HGA, which manifests as a 3 Rating Point reduction for teams playing away and a 3 Rating Point boost for teams playing at home
Reviewing the 21 rounds of the season to date and using the Rating that a team's opponents had as at game time, in retrospect it turns out that Hawthorn have had - on the basis of this approach - the most difficult schedule of all the teams in the competition.
This is despite the fact that the Hawks have had the second-easiest home schedule of any team. What's driven their overall average up is the calibre of the teams they've faced away, which comprises every team in or vying for a spot in the Top 8 with the exception of Collingwood. Quantitiatively, the average Rating of the teams they've played away from home is 8 Rating Points higher than any other team (except St Kilda), which equates to about a 1 goal advantage per game, on average. That's quite a handicap to be giving.
On the next tier of difficulty, Essendon, West Coast, St Kilda, GWS and Collingwood have all faced schedules that have been, in retrospect, of roughly equal strength, about 1 to 2 Ratings Points per game easier than the Hawks'.
Teams with the easiest schedules in retrospect have been the Roos and the Tigers, both due to the relative weakness of their away schedules but, for the Roos, due also to the relative weakness of their home schedule.
Richmond's away schedule has included the Dogs, Lions, Giants and Saints, while the Roos has included the Dees, Dogs, Lions and Giants. At home the Roos' schedule has included the Lions, Saints and Dogs - and no Sydney, Fremantle or Adelaide.
To allow a proper like-for-like comparison of these results with the equivalent analysis performed pre-season I've replicated the table above using teams' pre-season MARS Ratings in place of their Rating at the time of the relevant game.
The rankings shown here are a little different from those that came out of my original pre-season analysis, but they are broadly consistent. The largest differences are for Geelong, Fremantle, Adelaide and the Kangaroos.
Regardless, it's fair to say that, relative to how team schedules appeared pre-season:
- Hawthorn's and St Kilda's schedules have proven significantly more difficult
- Fremantle's, Gold Coast's and the Kangaroo's have proven significantly less difficult
The major lesson here is that we need to be very cautious about estimating the ease or difficulty of a team's draw pre-season: it's only once we've understood the real strength of each team during the course of the season that we can make a fully-informed assessment.
As well, this analysis helps context the Hawks' #1 MARS Ranking throughout the season. The fact that they've done so well against, on average, relatively better-credentialled opponents compared to those that other teams have faced, is indicative of a higher underlying quality than their pure results might suggest.